Research Paper By Monica Matei
(Life Coach, BELGIUM)
The beginning is the most important part of any work. Plato, The Republic
- To illustrate how psychological approaches can be used in coaching without the very nature of coaching be altered.
- Specifically, to present the ABCDE Model within the psychotherapy framework of the Rational Emotive Behavioral Approach as a coaching technique for assessment and intervention.
- Coaching as a professional field enhances more than problem solving and solution-oriented models; if the client presents a problem or an issue that necessitates a psychological intervention, coaching could offer psychological approaches at same extent.
- None of the psychological approaches in coaching overlap clinical interventions, they derive from psychological therapies but remain in the realm and expertise of the coaching framework.
The Rational Emotive Behavioral Approach
Called Rational Therapy and founded by psychotherapist Albert Ellis, this is a comprehensive and empirically based psychotherapy which focuses on resolving emotional and behavioral problems to enable people lead happier and more fulfilling lives (Ellis & Abrams, 2008).
One of the main premises of Rational Therapy is that people do not get angry only by unfortunate adversities, but also by how they construct their views of reality through their language, evaluative beliefs, meanings and philosophies about the world, themselves and other people (Ellis, 1994). People have both innate rational (self-helping, socially helping, and constructive) and irrational (self-defeating, socially defeating, and unhelpful) tendencies and leanings (Ellis & Dryden, 2007). Rational Therapy claims that people, to a large extend, consciously and unconsciously construct emotional difficulties such as self-blame, self-pity, guilt, shame, depression and anxiety, naturally followed by behavior tendencies like procrastination, avoidance, addiction and withdrawal.
No matter how and when people acquire self-defeating or irrational beliefs, if they are disturbed in the present, they tend to keep holding these irrational beliefs and continue upsetting themselves with these thoughts (Ellis, 2003).
Albert Ellis identified four key types of irrational beliefs, which are based on rigid, absolutist, dogmatic, goal-blocking, unempirical, illogical and unhelpful thinking (Palmer, 2009). These beliefs trigger poor psychological and behavioral performance in both personal and work life settings (Jorn, 2014):
- Demandingness or Absolutism – inflexible, dogmatic, extreme beliefs signaled by words such as "should", "must", "have to", and "need to"
- Demand for Love and Approval from everyone one finds important
- Demand for Success or Achievement in things one finds important
- Demand for Comfort or nearly no frustration or discomfort
Three other major irrational beliefs derived from these "demands" (Ellis, 1994):
- Awfulsizing - events are defined as worse, terrible
- Low frustration tolerance (LFT) - when person believes that he or she can not tolerate discomfort
- Depreciation or downing of self, others or life - which involves global negative ratings, damnation
Holding one of these beliefs lead to unhelpful performance, that negatively impact the emotional, physiological and behavioral levels.
Disputing irrational beliefs is the major psychotherapeutic technique in the Rational Emotive Behavioral Approach. The best way to use this technique is within the ACBDE Model, which facilitates a specific scenario.
The ABCDE Model
The ABCDE Model represents a psychological instrument (a tool created by same Albert Ellis) that helps clients identify irrational beliefs or self-defeating stances, and transform those into rational ones, so that new emotional, psychological and behavioral goals that are functional, flexible, non-absolutist, empirical, realistic and logical are created (Palmer, 1996).
The acronym stands for:
Activating event or adversity
It might be a crisis in a personal relationship, professional development, a speech to be given, chronic lack of confidence, job dissatisfaction, anything.
The cognitive component in a person’s reaction to events. Ellis found that people often state beliefs that are counterproductive and reduce clear thinking.
Irrational thoughts produce consequences. A belief develops an emotional component after it is practiced repeatedly. They can be self-fulfilling prophecies.
Disputation of irrational beliefs.
This consists of challenging (disputing) a client’s irrational beliefs as directly as possible.
Effective new approach to the concern or problem
Replacing irrational thoughts and fears with a calmer, more reasonable assessment can improve a person’s mood and lead to more adaptive behavior that addresses a problem rationally.
The ABCDE Model is based on a collaborative relationship that helps clients focus on their goals in a structured and systematic way. However, the steps (A, B, C, D, E) are not always followed in order. Sometimes it is difficult for clients to distinguish between consequences (C) and beliefs (B). Beliefs (B) tend to be confused with feelings and, sometimes previous consequences (C) become activating events (A).
How the ABCDE Model Can Be Used for Intervention in Coaching. Application Real Coaching Case
Client Profile: Sandra is a 48-years-old Arts teacher for secondary school pupils.
Coaching Context: After a preliminary discussion with Sandra regarding her needs and mutual expectations, we both agreed on working together. As her needs were around moving forward and defeating some emotional and behavioral barriers I introduced her in the ABCDE Model, as a main coaching tool.
The client agreed to let me record the coaching session and use the information for this study (without disclosing her real identity, therefore in the study the client’s name is fictive).
The Coaching Process – The ABCDE Model
A (Activating Event)
What happened? What is the concern?
I want to start painting. All my life I have being teaching Fine Arts, but I have never had the courage to paint myself.
[As I felt that is not the real Activating event, I didn’t go further with exploring the Beliefs (B). Instead I wanted to look at some Consequences (C) to facilitate the reformulation of the actual Activating Event (A).]
How does it make you feel to start working on your first paint?
Discouraged, and I have like a heavy back… something is pushing on my shoulders.
[The client is disturbed by “feeling discouraged” about the task, therefore the physiological reactions. I decided to go back to redefining the problem through the inference chain techique.]
A (Activating Event)
What are you most “discouraged” about when you imagine yourself undertaking this action?
Not being able to be a great artist. Not doing a masterful art work.
[This is the hypothetical critical A. I decided to make use of A and elicit the key irrational and unhelpful Beliefs (B).]
If I may have your permission I would like to invite you to imagine that you are not doing a masterful art work. Could you imagine it?
What thoughts are going through your mind now?
I should paint an excellent artwork. The result should be perfect.
[I identified one of the irrational briefs that Ellis called “demands.”. I decided to ask questions to obtain a derivate.]
And if you don’t?
If I am not doing an excellent artwork, then I am worthless as an artist.
[This is the self-downing belief. I went further with questions to elicit other derivates, if there were more.]
How do you experience being worthless as an artist?
I hate it. I can not stand that.
[I identified also the low frustration tolerance derivate – LFT. I continued a bit more in the same direction until I identified all derivates.]
What exactly can’t you stand about feeling worthless as an artist?
How can I be a good Arts teacher if I am not an artist myself? So, I might not be willing to teach anymore and will put myself out of job. But I don’t know to do anything else other than teaching. So, I would be staying home or find a stupid job to pay my taxes without having a true meaning in life.
[At this point I wanted to recap and invited the client to look at all beliefs.]
Which one of these are you most discouraged about?
- Painting a work art
- Not being able to make art
- Not being willing to teach Arts anymore
- Being out of teaching
- Staying at home with no job
- Having a stupid job to pay your taxes
- Not having a true meaning in life
It is not that much about giving up the teacher role, as I don’t think I will to it. It is about my classes, I will not have enough authority and legitimacy.
[Self-defeating and irrational thinking. I felt we hit the real critical A. I continued helping Sandra focusing on A.]
Lets consider that the students consider your classes not having authority and legitimacy. What are your main thoughts about this?
I should strive painting, be an artist. I need to gain some more authority.
[We came back the irrational belief “demand,” this time the demand was reflecting the real problem, the actual activationg event “A”. Thus, I was ready to move to assessing the Consequences (C).]
If you keep pushing yourself to become an artist, or else your students will think that your classes have “no authority” and “legitimacy,” and you could not “stand” it, how does it make you feel?
What are some physical sensations in your body when you experience these thoughts?
Sandra: Heavy chest…heavy back, my shoulders tighten.
Coach: What you have described is the physical reaction of your body when deals with the emotions like discouragement.
Would it be helpful for you to look at your thinking and attempt to deal with your discouragement?
Yes, I would give it a try.
[I made the B-C connection. After I facilitated the awareness of how disempowering is to hold these self-defeating beliefs, I was ready to challenge the irrational beliefs and obtained the permission for entering the Dispute (D) phase.]
Where is the evidence that your classes have no authority and legitimacy?
There is no scientific evidence. I feel sometimes students don’t treat my classes seriously.
Don’t treat your classes seriously…
I mean, they don’t work hard, they don’t show too much interest in the arts techniques, they don’t ask many questions. Sometimes they pretend working with the color plaques, and instead they take on other activities…
[I noticed how she was thinking about “authority” and “legitimacy”, these words were too harsh for what she was actually “expecting” from herself and the class. I kept challenging her and remained in the Dispute (D) stage.)
What is the direct relation between “authority” or “legitimacy” and the students’ behavior as described?
The relation is… As I don’t have too much authority (because I cannot show the students I am a painter myself or an artist) I loose also legitimacy to control them. And they behave the way they want. I have no legitimate power over them.
What is a clear proof of you losing power over them because you are not an artist yourself?
A clear proof… there is no such proof… it is the way I feel they think about myself.
[Mind reading. She made assumptions about what and why other people are feeling, acting the way they are. I wanted to challenge those assumptions.]
What is an evidence that the way you feel is the students’ truth as well?
I can not be sure…
How many chances are that you might be wrongly interpreting the students’ behavior as a response to your lack of authority and legitimacy because you are not an artist yourself?
There are many chances… Ah… I just wish my students are more interested in my classes.
I see, so you agree that there is no that much around “authority and legitimacy,” but rather you are looking for “more interest” from your students.
Yes, I think so… I would like to see more interest from students in my classes.
[The client reformulated the concern in a more non-absolutist manner, making the shift from an irrational belief (lacking authority and legitimacy) to a moderate one (looking to gain more interest).We were now ready to move further and develop a more effective approach through restoration of the emotion level (E).
E (Effective New Approach)
As you are looking at the situation in a less dramatic way, how does it make you feel when you think about painting?
How do you experience less discouragement?
I feel more relaxed, my thoughts are not running so fast… I calmed down a bit. I don’t have to be an artist to gain my students interest, right? I just feel a bit concerned about how to have them more involved in the classes.
[At this point the emotional goal was reconstructed. I went further to reestablish the behavioral goal also.]
Ok, that’s beautiful. You started thinking in a problem-solving way. Instead of defeating yourself with irrational thoughts, you are encouraging yourself to move forward. This is a great shift, Sandra!
How can you think around some possibilities to increase your students’ interest?
Maybe to make my classes more appealing, to do something different from time to time. I can organize some trips to arts exhibitions outside town, or create an exhibition where everyone contribute with their own talents.
It sounds great! How about you exhibit your own talent, you paint something and bring it there, even though it is not a master piece? Do you take the challenge?
Mmm… I might consider it. If exhibiting my painting together with students’ I demonstrate commitment and involvement in the event. That could be a good example for other teaches to join. us. Yes, I will do it!
[The behavioral and psychological goals were rebuilt in a more empowering way. I wanted to work also with the psychical sensations.]
How does this new intentions make you feel? Some body sensations that you have right now?
It is like the heaviness on my back is not that “heavy.”, I could feel my shoulders, but there is no such squeeze sensation…I am relatively relaxed that I know I don’t necessarily have to be an artist. It would be preferable, but if it turns out the other way around, I am fine with it. I still have a lot to give to my students.
[This was the completion of the restoration of the cognitive, behavioral and physiological goals.]
Summery of the Coaching session
|Activating Event (Target Problem) (A)|
|Start painting.Mini inference chain: What are you most anxious about?|
Not doing masterful art work.Not being able to be an artist.
|Beliefs (Interfering thoughts) (B)|
|I should do an excellent work. (Demand)If I don’t do excellent artwork, I am worthless as an artist. (Self-downing)I can not stand being worthless as an artist. (LFT)Looking for derivates: What exactly don’t you stand about being worthless as an artist?My classes will not have enough authority and legitimacy. (Depreciation)I should strive painting, be an artist to gain main authority. (“Critical” demand)|
|Consequences (Emotional Behavioral Reaction) (C)|
|Discouraged.Not performing the task, procrastinating.|
Heavy back. Heavy chest. Shoulders tighten.
|Disputation (Enhancing Thoughts) (D)|
|Where is the evidence that your classes have no authority and legitimacy?I think the students would be more interested in my classes if I do so.I don’t have to be an artist myself, but if it turns out the other way around, I am fine with it. I still have a lot to offer to my students. (Transition from irrational Beliefs to moderate ones. Reconstruction of Thoughts)|
|Effective new beliefs Approach (New actions to the Problem) (E)|
|I am less discouraged. I just feel a bit concerned about how to have them more involved in the class. (Reconstruction of the Emotional goal)The heaviness on my back is not that “heavy.” I feel relatively relaxed. I feel my shoulders, but there is no such squeeze sensation. (Reconstruction of the Physiological goal)I could organize some trips to arts exhibitions, or organize an exhibition where everyone contributes with their own talents.I will exhibit my own painting. (Reconstruction of the Behavioral goals)|
The coaching session demonstrates the basic theory and practice of the Rational Emotive Behavioral Approach through its ABCDE tool, successfully applied in a coaching purpose. In the current coaching session the client was continuously supported and guided to recognize her irrational beliefs (disempowering beliefs) and together with the coach the client consciously constructed new, more rational beliefs that empowered her. Not only the cognitive structure of the client was reestablished (thoughts, beliefs, language), but also the emotional and behavioral levels were re-shifted with more flexible and less “constraining” expectations. Although it had psychological instruments at its base, the coaching dialogue followed entirely the coaching conduct and guidelines. This can be noticed by the type of questioning (open-ended questions, non-leading questions), by the tone of the dialogue (non-judgmental), by the coach’s asking permission from the client to undertake a certain initiative, challenging assumptions and beliefs, and not providing any set of answers or “paradigm” etc.
The effective mind shift that happened during this coaching session proves once more the great value of having all together: the psychological approaches and the coaching processes. Nevertheless, psychological approaches such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy (REBT), Rational Effectiveness, all stay as massive pillars for collaborating with the coaching arena. As soon as it doesn’t go “therapeutic” or “clinic”, coaches can trustfully borrow psychological instruments.
Ellis, A. (1994), Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, revised and updated, Birch Lane Press.
Ellis, A. (2003), Early Theories and Practices of Rational Emotive Behavior Theory, Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy
Neenan, M. and Palmer, S. (2001), Cognitive Behavioral Coaching, Stress News
Palmer, S. (2009) Rational Coaching: A cognitive Behavioral Approach, Coaching Psychologist, VOL No. 1
Palmer, S. (1996), and Burton, T. (1996), Dealing with People Problems at Work, McGraw-Hill
Jorn, A., Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, 2014 from:
Dr. Dewey, The A-B-C-D-E Mnemonic, 2014, from: